Living life as an outsider

Living life as an outsider

A student born in Hong Kong to mainland parents wrote a book on the challenges he faces

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Lok Jai, and his father, in his small Sham Shui Po apartment.
Lok Jai, and his father, in his small Sham Shui Po apartment.
Photo: Lok Jai

Lok Jai is an "anchor baby". The 17-year-old, who wouldn't reveal his real name, is the second child born to parents who live in rural Guangdong. His mother gave birth to him in Hong Kong to avoid penalties under the mainland's one-child policy.

In 2011, his parents sent him back to Hong Kong, where - because he was born here - he is entitled to free education. He couldn't afford his tuition fees at a secondary school in his hometown, which cost about 60,000 yuan (about HK$76,000) per year for "extra" children.

Yet life across the border presents him with many financial and cultural worries. He has written of his experiences in a 150-page semi-autobiography, Child in A Sub-Divided Apartment, in which he laments the fact that he is caught between two identities. He grew up on the mainland without a hukou - the right to residency in China - so cannot enjoy welfare like other residents. He holds citizenship of a city where he's unwelcome: Hongkongers have accused anchor babies and their parents of stealing resources, such as schooling and health care.

His book was voted one of the 10 best books by secondary school students in a poll this month, organised by the Professional Teacher's Union and the Hong Kong government.

Hong Kong was a city of glitz and glamour when, aged eight, he visited as a tourist. But as a student, Lok Jai found it gloomy - with hectic schedules, clusters of skyscrapers and high property prices.

His first hurdle here was to settle into a 200-square-foot, sub-divided Sham Shui Po flat - one fifth the size of his parent's house. His choices were limited because his family is in debt; his father - the only breadwinner - lost his leg and his ability to work after a car accident. His parents take turns to visit him on a three-month visitor's permit, to help him adapt to the new conditions.

His English proficiency did not meet Hong Kong standards, so Lok Jai faced a difficult time finding a school. When he did, he had to start in Form Three, instead of Form Five.

"I started learning English only in Primary Three," he says. "So I couldn't understand the questions in English in the entrance exams."

After almost two years of hard work, he says he has improved, but still admits his listening and writing skills need further work.

Life after school has been monotonous: English tutorial classes every Monday and Tuesday evening; school-based assessments on Wednesdays and Thursdays; taekwondo on Fridays. He works in a cha chaan teng at the weekend to earn money to help him stay afloat. Young Post met him for a cup of coffee on a public holiday, after he'd worked a seven-hour shift.

"Every week is the same: it's like a never-ending cycle," he says without a hint of frustration. "I never seem to get enough rest even with eight hours' sleep each day ... Leisure time is a luxury. I can relax only perhaps once every 10 days ... But you have to work around what life presents. I believe destiny is in our hands."

He is independent enough to pay for his own rent, food and transport; he even sends home a few hundred dollars each month. He never asks his family for money.

He understands Hongkongers' concerns about extra people competing for social welfare, but hopes they will grow more accommodating to people from minority groups, such as him.

In his book, he wrote that anchor babies face their own struggles, and that discrimination against compatriots is unfriendly and divisive. When he first went to school here, classmates called him names because of his strong countryside accent. But they grew friendlier as he got to know them. Now locals often ask him to play video games at their homes and go for barbecues at the beach.

However, he turns down their invitations so he can work and save for a rainy day.

Yet one activity he is happy do is volunteering; he and his friends have visited To Kwa Wan residents affected by the deadly 2011 fire, and designed games for the elderly and sold flags for good causes.

He hopes to be a social worker helping teenagers one day. "Many people have shown me kindness," Lok Jai says. "The only way to pay them back is to help others."

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